It is a mid-Saturday afternoon on Skye as I write. The wind is chasing a bank of white clouds across a watery blue sky and the shades of green and grey radiating from the craggy peaks in the near-distance are vivid beneath a lemon coloured sun. Such is the view from my new office window. A short walk down the corridor and turn right, and there is a still more dramatic vista through the expanse of glass that fronts our open-plan living room and this one of rugged heath, deep blue sea and way over yonder the mighty elevations of the Trotternish Ridge. An occasional car labours up the single-track ribbon road that we look down upon, but we are just as likely to see plunging gannets, a soaring sea eagle or an inquisitive red deer, such as the young doe that crossed our car's path yesterday morning.
Exactly one week ago, we moved at last into our island home. Altogether, it took us a month over four years to complete our journey from chocolate box English village to here. Try as I might, I still haven't found the words to adequately convey the overwhelming force of emotions that last weekend brought about. Among this battery, though, there was what I can only describe as a kind of euphoric disbelief. Not only that we had reached a point I had hardly even dared to dream of, but that a fully-formed house - a home - was now perched on the hilltop plot that until two months ago had been a half-acre of scrub, dirt and rock.
The depth of that feeling has gone on growing all through this week. As I've woken to roaring winds and with the sunrise, the dawn sky over the ocean pinkish and pregnant. And then again enjoyed long, lazy evenings listening to music and being struck time and again by how the ever-changing light here constantly reveals wonders and secrets over the land, and so that no scene ever looks precisely the same from one hour to the next. This much is endlessly transfixing, magical seeming, and even more so now that every last box is unpacked and there is no piece of tat left for me to haul up into the loft.
Also, it must be said that the last few weeks for the four of us, and as a net result of all of the above, have been very strange indeed. Now, I can do common or garden surreal. Indeed, for the longest time it was my business to be and operate in such a state. Why, and in no particular order of outright oddness, I have at one time or other done all of the following:
1/ Paraded on stage before several thousand young Japanese dressed up as a pink teapot. This was the doing of the all-too-briefly pop-tastic Mika. Touring the Far East in what now appears to be the final flush of his fame, young Mika put on a splendidly camp show that was one part acid trip to two parts Mad Hatter's tea party, and which incorporated the intermittent appearance of various costumed extras who got to cavort around a stage-set done up to be like a giant doll's house.
For a handful of diverting days, I trailed this merry spectacle from Hong Kong to Seoul and finally to Tokyo, where it was that Mika, scamp that he was, determined that I should join in the fun. So it was that at a certain point in the show, I was hauled off to the wings, had the papier-mache teapot pulled down over my head, shoulders and to my knees and was shoved out into the spotlight. Whereupon I immediately knocked over a keyboard stand and nearly impaled a shocked female backing singer on my spout. In my defence, one could barely see out of any of the costumes, though no-one else wreaked quite so much havoc as I.
2/ Undertaken an epic, sphincter-tightening fourteen-hour flight from the South of France to somewhere nearby Luton through a howling storm and in a six-seater light aircraft piloted by none other than Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson. The self-proclaimed 'Air Raid Siren' has long fancied himself a bit of a boys' own adventurer in the guise of a heavy metal Biggles, so relished the idea of taking off his eggshell-fragile aircraft into the teeth of a furious gale and the dead of night. I, on the other hand, have a pronounced fear of flying that renders me a gibbering wreck and would rather have been anywhere, doing anything but putting my life in the especially hairy one's hands. But then, I had next to no choice in the matter.
"If you want a bloody interview with him, you'll have to go with him on his bloody plane," Dickinson's manager Rod Smallwood, a formidable Yorkshireman, had told me hours earlier, and back when I was still watching a solo Dickinson attempt to entertain several thousand bikers at a festival staged at an ugly race-track a few miles outside of Marseilles. The measure of his success in this matter was that at the midpoint of his set, the crowd parted so as to let through a hulking, bearded gentleman with a hessian sack slung over his shoulder and who was intent on marching up to the very front of the stage. It soon transpired that the sack was filled with potatoes and our fearsome-looking friend proceeded to throw them, one after another and with unerring accuracy, at Dickinson once he had reached his preferred vantage point and for the next thirty minutes or so.
Smallwood serenaded me onto Dickinson's Cessna with a verse or two of Buddy Holly's That'll Be the Day, a malicious glint in his eyes, as well he might since he was catching a British Airways charter home. Whereas we, which is to say Dickinson, his co-pilot, a photographer from the News of the World so inebriated that he could have cared less and I, spent far too long in each other's company being bucked and buffeted like a barrel in a white water rapid. "If you happen to see ice forming on either of the wings or spot a bigger plane coming our way, don't assume I've noticed and do shout," Dickinson advised me as we reared over the Channel. I was so traumatised by then that I could only squeak a reply. Eventually, gloriously, we landed at a small airfield in rural Hertfordshire and with all the grace of a fridge being tipped off a cliff, and after which I had to listen to Dickinson ramble on about his hopelessly unfunny Lord Iffy Boatrace 'comic' novels for what seemed like several weeks.
And 3/ During the course of twenty entirely memorable minutes had Britt Ekland swear at me and my testicles crushed as if in a vice by Marilyn Manson. The occasion for this unique two-hander was the annual Kerrang! magazine awards, which were typically the scene of decadence and depravity (for just one tawdry example, at the event the year before this one I - and a few hundred others - watched the three members of Green Day lasciviously pass between them a female dwarf).
That year, we had enlisted the erstwhile Swedish sex kitten as our surprise guest of honour and for the purpose of presenting Manson, then styling himself the 'God of Fuck', with the evening's principal trophy. Things didn't quite go according to plan, but then they never did. As La Ekland tottered stage-wards in skyscraper heels, she slipped on off all things a carelessly discarded slice of lemon and tumbled to the floor in an undignified heap. Several pierced and tattooed gentlemen rushed to her aid, and she was carried up on to the stage like an injured queen.
As magazine Editor, it fell to me to meet her there. I had procured for her a chair, and as she was sat in it, I leaned over and, gallantly I thought, asked her how she was feeling and whether or not there was anything else I could do to help. I wasn't to know that the mishap had, in fact, resulted in a broken ankle. For a beat, the one-time Bond girl gazed up at me with the blinking eyes of a wounded rabbit. Then a sneer curled at her unnaturally big lips and she snarled back at me: "Oh, fuck off."
Britt recovered her poise enough to hand Manson his gong, a golden 'K', but since she was by then weeping with pain, I was detailed to accompany him to the media room and to pose with him before a scrum of photographers. The two of us lined up shoulder to shoulder before this mob and Manson whispered to me, "Say cheese, motherfucker." At which point, he reached a bony arm down between my legs, sunk the long, sharpened-to-a-point fingernails of one hand into my scrotum and squeezed so tight my eyes watered like a burst dam. No-one laughed more than I when his next album flopped.
Yet for all that, nothing has made me reel inside quite so much as sitting down to watch our house go up in one day for a second time and on prime-time ITV1. Not that in total 'our' episode of Robson Green's Coastal Lives didn't make Skye look ravishing, or living here seem such a boundless adventure and with a plethora of fascinating, funny and wholly inspiring folk to happen across, but good Lord, it's discombobulating to see precisely how it is that you look and act at the very moment that the biggest thing you have imagined becomes reality.
In the case of the rest of the family, this was with a level of delight that was entirely appropriate, but not embarrassing. However, I didn't so much cross over that line, as bound beyond it at full pelt and with a stupid, slack-jawed expression on my face. For who knows what reason, I greeted the raising of the house walls with a ridiculous, fit-like dance, hopping from one foot to the other in rapid succession and as if I were being subjected to a series of violent electric shocks.
This whole routine lasted only a split second, but enough to make me recoil into the sofa in abject horror, accentuated by my untamed onscreen appearance which made me think of nothing quite so much as Santa Claus on hunger strike. Truly, it was awful to behold, and what's more the show's producers elected to repeat this same shot no less than three times throughout the course of the programme. Doubtless, they thought they had captured us in our most natural states and likely they had, but if only mine were not that of a berk.
All of this I shall very probably continue to ponder over the days and weeks ahead, and perhaps before too long will feel returned to a more normal state. For now, here in this incredible-seeming new home of ours, even time itself seems made of elastic, moments stretching out, the beat of the days appearing to me to be longer, the simplest of things - rain on the window, mist over open ground, dew on the grass - otherworldly and miraculous.
It is as if I, and we are seeing such things for the first time and with fresh eyes, or even beginning again, which I guess was the point all along.
This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:
Tom Waits - Ol' 55
The first song played in the new house and never sounded better or more evocative.